The mayor of Burlington, Vermont held a periodic briefing on the impact of the COVID pandemic on the city this week. It included an update on wastewater monitoring for the virus.
Using a number of data slides Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger reported generally positive trends in Burlington. Since his last update a couple weeks ago he said infection rates have improved significantly.
“Since the early April really highest level of new infections that we had seen at any point in the pandemic over the last two to three weeks we have seen that picture change significantly and there’s been a fairly steep downward trend," the mayor said. "It’s not completely even. But the general direction seems to be very very positive and it’s consistent with some of our other data.”
New infections in populations over 30 have been stable or down and senior citizens have experienced significant drops in infections throughout January and February. Chief Innovation Officer Brian Lowe is coordinating the city’s COVID response. He says regional data shows infections remain elevated in the younger population.
“Most of the cases in Burlington, or in Chittenden County rather, are concentrated in folks under the age of 40," Lowe said. "That makes some sense in that older folks have had access to vaccines for longer. But again the overall case numbers are coming down. The wastewater surveillance is indicative of that continuing to happen and older age groups are seeing a very low percentage of overall cases.”
The city tests its wastewater for the presence of the coronavirus. Lowe presented slides showing the prevalence of the virus in each of the three wastewater plants.
“The North Plant average has stayed at a fairly low level for a while now, really through most of March," Lowe said. "The East Plant numbers are coming down very significantly over the last couple of weeks. And the Main Plant remains stable albeit at a relatively high level. So there is still COVID in the community but the general trajectory citywide is definitely down. And that matches some of the case data. The wastewater readings, again, usually are predictive. They tell you the kind of volume of future cases we should expect. And so it’s a really good sign to see those continuing to trend down even as overall cases decline as well.”
The wastewater testing also tracks and seeks any variants of the COVID-19 virus. Lowe says tests indicate there are two in the city’s wastewater.
“The B1-1-7 variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom, is now really very widespread across the city," Lowe explained. "The way we track it we can see two mutations in the viral RNA in the wastewater that are indicative of the B1-1-7 variant. And the Department of Health has confirmed for us through genomic sequencing that that is what we’re seeing here. We do track another mutation. This variant was also present at a very low level about the same time that B1-1-7 entered our community. And so it looks like this is not one that necessarily will follow that same growth trajectory that B1-1-7 did.”
Meanwhile the city continues to promote vaccinations. Mayor Weinberger noted there has been significant progress in vaccination efforts especially in reaching the area’s minority communities.
“A real focus of the city has been to work with numerous partner organizations to really ensure that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) Burlingtonians and BIPOC Chittenden County residents are getting vaccinated and we just completed last Saturday the fifth week of operations of a BIPOC clinic," the mayor said. "And it does seem there has been some narrowing of the gap between white and Black and brown Vermonters as result of the policy changes and these efforts. That’s been encouraging to see.”